The States Meeting starting on Wednesday 27 September is likely to be a fairly lively debate, particularly on the issues of College funding and the wall at L’Ancresse. In June, the States agreed that the Presidents of different Committees should take turns giving a general update at the start of each States Meeting: this time, it’s the turn of the President of the Committee for Economic Development, Deputy Peter Ferbrache, and the President of the Development and Planning Authority, Deputy John Gollop. This will provide an opportunity for questions and answers relating to any part of these Committees’ mandates, before we get stuck into the main agenda.
Billet d’Etat XVIII – 27 September 2017 (read it online here)
Part One: Elections and Appointments
Tax on real property, or TRP, is an annual tax on buildings and land. Different types of building attract different rates of TRP. The system is managed by Cadastre, the islands’ official register of property ownership, and current TRP rates can be found here (for Guernsey) and here (for Alderney).
The TRP Appeals Panel was established under the Taxation of Real Property (Guernsey and Alderney) Ordinance, 2007. It hears appeals against Cadastre decisions, which might include the way a property has been measured or categorised for the purpose of charging TRP. It is an independent Panel, with members appointed by the States.
Following the resignation of some Panel members over the last couple of years, and the passing away of the Panel’s former Chair, Policy & Resources are recommending the appointment of three new members: Zannette Bougourd, Audrey Branch and Thalia El Chammah. Their CVs are available in the policy letter. P&R also recommend that existing Panel members, John Weir and Julia White, be appointed as Chair and Deputy Chair respectively.
Following a resignation, the Committee for Environment & Infrastructure is recommending that Advocate Mark Dunster be appointed as a member of the Panel to complete the unfinished term of office (up to 31 March 2021). The policy letter also notes the appointment of a reserve member, Victoria Russell – however, this doesn’t need States’ approval, as it is essentially a training role, and the individual will have to apply to become a full Panel member in due course, if she wants to.
Item 3 – Election of a Member of the Elizabeth College Board of Directors (link)
The States is responsible for appointing members to the Elizabeth College Board of Directors. One Director is coming to the end of his six-year term of office, and the College has asked the States to consider appointing Andreas Tautscher in his stead. Mr Tautscher’s CV is summarised in the College’s letter, and we understand that he will be proposed by Deputy Lyndon Trott, who is also a Director of the College. States Members can also put up nominations from the floor.
The Guernsey Banking Deposit Compensation Scheme exists to provide some financial protection to customers in the event that a Guernsey bank fails. The scheme is run by the Banking Deposit Compensation Scheme Board: its role and responsibilities are set out in the Banking Deposit Compensation Scheme (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Ordinance, 2008.
This report informs the States that Stephen Hogg and William Simpson have been appointed as ordinary members of the Board, and Richard Denton as its Chair. These appointments don’t need to be actively approved by the States, but the States does have the power to annul them.
Part Two: Legislation Laid Before the States
The items in this section are statutory instruments (orders and regulations) which are agreed and put into action by individual Committees of the States, in line with their powers and duties. The States do not have to approve these (they are in force from the moment the relevant Committee decides) but we do have the power to annul a statutory instrument if we don’t agree with it. This would be quite an unusual move. There won’t be any debate about these items unless there is a motion to annul one of them.
There are nine statutory instruments. Three relate to the finance sector: one updates the rules about information provided with transfers of funds, to comply with EU requirements, and two introduce references to the new Beneficial Ownership law into other relevant legislation. Three more relate to air transport: two update the Rules of the Air, and one amends older laws to reflect the current power of the Director of Civil Aviation to issue air operators’ certificates. Of the remaining three, one relates to communication between the Police and offenders under sexual offences legislation; one raises the licence fees for buses and taxis; and one updates the list of prescription drugs which are subsidised by the States.
Part Three: Legislation for Approval
This Ordinance amends the Electronic Transactions (Guernsey) Law, 2000, and the Bills of Exchange (Guernsey) Law, 1958, to give the Committee for Economic Development the power to create regulations that will allow for cheques to be accepted electronically, rather than in physical form.
This follows similar developments in the UK, which, according to the UK government, would primarily benefit small businesses and charities, who now tend to be the main users and recipients of cheques. The aim of enabling cheques to be presented electronically is to speed up the amount of time it takes for cheques to clear, as well as reducing costs related to processing them.
This law does not specify how electronic presentment of cheques will work in practice: that is a matter for the Committee for Economic Development to work out, and to set out in regulations when it is ready to do so.
This law means that nurses and pharmacists, who are authorised to do so by the Committee for Health & Social Care, may issue prescriptions for drugs that are subsidised by the States, in the same way as doctors currently do.
Both Committees involved with this law (Employment & Social Security and Health & Social Care) are aware that we are moving towards a society where more and more care is provided ‘in the community’ – in people’s own homes or places they visit regularly, rather than in hospitals or other medical centres. This shift in healthcare means that a patient’s first point of contact with the health system – be that a nurse or doctor, pharmacist, optician or physiotherapist – has to be capable of helping that patient as much as possible, as well as connecting them with other services that can meet their needs. Empowering nurses and pharmacists to prescribe States-subsidised medicines is a step in the right direction. It also reflects the fact that nurses and pharmacists are highly-skilled professionals, with the training and qualifications to prescribe certain drugs, and gives them the opportunity to use those skills to the benefit of the community, as they are able to do elsewhere. The RCN website contains more information about Nurse Independent Prescribers and the General Pharmaceutical Council about Pharmacist Independent Prescribers.
This law defines a number of ‘specially dangerous’ air weapons (those disguised as other objects, as well as air pistols with kinetic energy above 6 foot-pounds and other air weapons with kinetic energy above 12 foot-pounds). These weapons are to be prohibited under section 6 of the Firearms (Guernsey) Law, 1998, which means a person can only possess, use, sell, make or buy them with a written authorisation from the Committee for Home Affairs.
The law also defines crossbows (with a draw weight of at least 1.4 kg) and spear guns as “regulated weapons”. The Committee has explained that the purpose of this is to allow them to make rules that will prevent those weapons being sold to unsupervised children.
Part Four: Other Business
The Guernsey Financial Services Commission is responsible for regulating the finance sector in Guernsey. Its annual report and accounts are presented to the States by P&R each year. These include a summary of the Commission’s work over the past year, and a look forward to potential risks and challenges in the coming year.
The Banking Deposit Compensation Scheme provides some financial protection for customers in the event that a Guernsey bank collapses. The Scheme will pay out compensation of up to £50,000 per affected person, up to a maximum of £100 million in any five year period. It is expected to raise the sum of £100 million by charging levies on the other banks in the industry, when a collapse happens.
However, contributions to this levy are capped at £1 million per bank (or 50% of their profits, if those are less than £1m) per year. As there are only 24 banks in the sector at the moment, this means that the Scheme would not be able to raise £100 million immediately, if one of them went bust.
This policy letter asks the States to give P&R the authority to make available two loan facilities for the Scheme: an on-demand facility of £15 million, and a further discretionary facility of £57 million. These would enable the Scheme to quickly meet its legal obligations to customers if a bank failed. It would then recoup the money from other banks over a period of several years, and gradually pay the States back.
In a footnote to the policy letter on page four, the Committee for Economic Development notes that it is also consulting on whether to raise the cap to £2 million per individual bank, and remove the lower threshold (50% of profits) altogether. It seems regrettable that the Committee did not wait for the results of this consultation before reporting back to the States: the case for States’ loans would be more compelling if it could be demonstrated that the industry itself was also doing all it could to ensure customer protection.
Last November, the States decided to introduce non-selective secondary school education, bringing to an end the use of the 11+ exam in the Bailiwick. The 11+ had been used to determine whether children would go to their catchment High School or to the Grammar School. It was also used to award a number of States-funded places at Blanchelande, Elizabeth College and Ladies’ College.
Following that decision, the States now has a number of urgent questions to resolve, about how secondary education should be provided in future. One of those relates to the Colleges: should they continue to receive any States funding? If so, how much? And what will it buy?
The Committee for Education, Sport & Culture is recommending that the “general grant” paid to each of the Colleges, worth about £816 per student, should continue for at least the next seven years. This will give the Colleges a basic financial cushion, which will help them through the transition to a new system of secondary education. However, the Committee recommends that the money which the States currently spends on covering the fees of 11+ students should simply be phased out year on year, as those students complete their education.
So far, one amendment has been published, giving the States the option either to finish paying fees for the 11+ places and then stop funding the Colleges altogether, or to introduce a new bursary scheme, without any element of academic selection. The amendment, bizarrely, offers five different grounds for the States to choose from as justifications for why ongoing funding should be provided, but the end result is the same in all cases. The question of College funding has prompted a lot of discussion among States Members, and it is very likely that there may be other amendments proposed closer to the day of the debate.
This short policy letter provides the schedule of States Meeting dates for the second half of 2018 and the first half of 2019. It reminds States Members of the reasons why a three-week schedule was adopted, including the ability to get items considered by the States much more swiftly than under the old system, and the avoidance of “reserve dates” which were not generally respected by States Members. However, there is also an amendment, led by Deputies de Lisle and Paint, which recommends that the States should only meet once a month.
Item 11 – Proposals for the Partial Removal of the Anti-Tank Wall in the Eastern Part of L’Ancresse Bay and the Managed Realignment of the Coastline in this Area (link) Responsible Committee: Environment & Infrastructure
This policy letter is a response to a Requete led by Deputy Neil Inder, asking the Committee for Environment & Infrastructure to bring this matter to the States for debate. (The Requete itself is Item 12 on our agenda, but as it covers the same material as this policy letter, and Deputy Inder has submitted a motion to withdraw it, I have not covered it separately here.)
The ultimate context for this issue is Guernsey’s future flooding risks. The key documents for understanding that are the Guernsey Coastal Defence – Flood Risk Assessment Studies carried out in 2012 and the 2013 Policy Letter which set out how the then Environment Department proposed to manage those risks. The table on p1202-3 of that policy letter, which shows that the potential damage from flooding is over 600 times greater around St Sampson’s than it is around Pembroke Bay and L’Ancresse, is worth bearing in mind in this debate.
The wall at L’Ancresse was built during the German Occupation in the 1940s. It is damaged and, without ongoing repairs, will eventually collapse. The Committee for Environment & Infrastructure is recommending that a stretch of the wall should be removed altogether and rock groynes should be constructed on the beach, to help re-form the dunes which used to act as the backstop of the bay, before the War. This is presented as a sustainable and cost-effective option, which works with the geography of the beach.
There are some fears that the removal of the wall will lead to flooding, or damage to the L’Ancresse golf course. However, the engineering advice suggests that this is unlikely. The wall was constructed as a military defence, rather than as protection against flooding, and it has long since outgrown that use. As there have been so many public and political questions about the proposed work, there is an extensive Frequently Asked Questions section available at gov.gg/lancresse including a whole set of videos at the bottom of the page, which are particularly useful in addressing the issues in a clear and accessible way.
The latest development is that a Sursis Motive has been laid by Deputy Inder and Deputy Peter Ferbrache, asking the States to delay any decision on this until a further study has been carried out by the Committee for Environment & Infrastructure. In the meanwhile, ongoing repairs would be carried out whenever necessary to keep the area safe for beachgoers.
While I recognise that members of the public who are campaigning to keep the wall are genuine and heartfelt in their concern, I find this debate worrying for two reasons. First, and most profoundly, the case against the Committee’s recommendations involves ripping up two decades of independent studies of Guernsey’s coastal defences, and substituting instinct for expert advice. Our vulnerability to flooding is going to get worse over the next few decades, and we will fail to prepare adequately for it if we refuse to accept the scientific modelling, and the necessary changes to our coastline that will help us to manage the risk.
Second – although I would enjoy the chance to say “I told you so” – if we don’t make a sensible decision about the L’Ancresse wall, we as a States are completely failing to put our money where our mouth is when it comes to financial prudence. Continuing to delay a decision will be expensive, as ongoing repairs to the wall will be needed. Deciding to protect the wall at all costs will be even more expensive, as the options for doing so are costly or have a much shorter lifespan than the alternatives. Choosing to prioritise spending on L’Ancresse over the areas where there is real long-term risk to hundreds of homes and businesses would be totally counter-productive; while emptying our wallets for high-cost, short-term solutions would be imprudent, when a reasonable alternative solution has been offered for L’Ancresse, which is expected to be proportionate and cost-effective in the long term.
Part Five: Appendix Reports
The following reports have been published as “appendix reports”, meaning that they are shared for information, but will not be debated by the States unless there is a specific request to do so:
Channel Islands Lottery – 2016 Report and Accounts (link) – showing that scratch-card sales have increased by nearly £1m over the last year, amounting to £8.6m in Guernsey in 2016. It also notes that the Committee for Home Affairs was given £15,000 to provide support for people with a gambling problem, although it does not include any details of how that money would be spent.
The Ladies College Annual Report 2015-2016 (link) – including details of school developments and students’ achievements over the course of the year. I think it’s to the College’s credit that they use a “value added” measure, looking at how much progress students have made as well as what results they’ve attained, and would like to see more of this kind of approach used across all schools.
Drug and Alcohol Strategy Annual Report 2015-2016 (link) – as the first annual report on the Strategy, it recaps developments over the past two years, including work to manage the misuse of prescription drugs; drug and alcohol education in schools; and the development of user-led initiatives to support recovery from drug addiction, starting from an annual “Recovery in the Community” conference. It also includes a first attempt to measure the added value of working in together with charities to deliver core services, which will be increasingly important if the States keeps its emphasis on developing partnerships with the voluntary sector.
Defects Liability Insurance (link) – in response to a Requete prepared by former Deputy Roger Perrot, the Policy & Resources Committee have been looking at whether the States should introduce a law to require that all purchasers of new builds should have Defects Liability Insurance, to protect against the cost of remedying defects in the property that aren’t obvious at the time of purchase. The conclusion is that legislation is not necessary, and would be burdensome. It’s not clear from the report exactly why that’s so, especially as it appears that most developers are offering the insurance already, but the reluctance to legislate seems fairly typical of our disregard for consumer protection and decent housing standards.
Record of Members’ Attendance at Meetings of the States of Deliberation and Committees – 6 months ending 30.04.2017 (link) – a routine update, listing States Members’ attendance at States Meetings, and at meetings of their Committees, over the past six months.
Planning Panel Annual Report 2016 (link) – reporting on the types of appeals considered by the Planning Panel in the last year, and the decisions which were made. Sections 8 and 9 raise a small number of matters arising from cases considered by the Panel (in relation to protected buildings, representations from third parties, and inconsistencies in appeal periods) which merit further consideration by the Development & Planning Authority. It also notes the introduction of the new Island Development Plan, which will affect its decision-making; and the High Hedges law, in respect of which it will also determine any appeals.